Germany on Tuesday gave its strongest indications yet that it will buy a disk offered by an informant containing details of hundreds of investors suspected of evading taxes via accounts in Switzerland.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as telling the Augsburger Allgemeine daily that "the decision has in principle been taken" to buy the data on some 1,500 investors.
He pointed to the case's legal similarities to one two years ago in which German authorities bought data on tax evasion via accounts in Liechtenstein, and said that "we couldn't decide any other way," according to the report.
The consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, told ARD television that "the data will be bought."
In the Liechtenstein case, German authorities paid an informant as much as 5 million euros ($6.9 million) for a CD-ROM containing a list with the names of account holders.
The information in the latest case is widely suspected to have been stolen from a bank, and the possible purchase has raised questions as to whether buying it would constitute supporting data theft.
However, Schaeuble noted that no court has objected to using the data in the Liechtenstein case as evidence, the Augsburger Allgemeine reported.
The Liechtenstein purchase prompted a wide-ranging investigation that netted more than 160 suspects, the highest-profile of which was former Deutsche Post AG Chief Executive Klaus Zumwinkel.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday made clear that she supported buying the Swiss data. If they turn out to be relevant, "everything should be done to get the data," she said.
Authorities aren't giving details, but German media have reported that the informant offered the data for euro2.5 million.
Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter criticized Germany for considering using stolen data to pursue tax evaders, but said his country was keen for stable relations with its larger neighbor.
"As a small country we can't have so many fronts at the same time," he told DRS public radio, referring to recents spats over tax evasion with France, Italy and the United States.
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